"There's simply no reason to believe that spacemen have visited Earth ever, much less that an alien space craft landed somewhere in the Ozarks last night!" FUS News reporter Harry Krep's pale blue eyes bored into the camera and out of the television screen hung from the ceiling of Vern's Diner. "There are perfectly logical explanations for what those people think they saw, and I hardly think that two bumpkins going missing is a sign of some alien invasion. This kind of mass hysteria is the direct result of irresponsible shows like Extraordinarily Old Extraterrestrials."
An old farmer at the back of the diner called out at the television, "I know what I saw!" A few of the gathered townsfolk snickered at him; others applauded him. Outside the diner, a local news truck was recording a report for the late evening news.
"How's that chicken fried steak coming, dear?" Mrs. Gill looked none too pleased to be sharing her diner with so many other customers. The bounce had gone out of her curls, but a smile played around the corners of the old lady's carefully painted lips.
Reagan smiled at her most loyal customer as best as she could. "I'll check, ma'am," she said. Rather than hollering through the window to the kitchen, she walked into the back where Vern was busy swearing at the cooktop, surrounded by plates of burned food and dirty utensils.
Vern looked up at the burst of cool air that accompanied Reagan into the kitchen. "What the hell do they need now?" Reagan worried that their customers could hear the snarl through the pass-through.
"Mrs. Gill is wondering when her chicken fried steak will be done."
Vern spun around and faced Reagan. His right hand held a spatula like a hatchet. Beads of sweat trickled down his unshaven cheeks. His tattooed arms glistened beneath his old, yellowed t-shirt. What hair remained on Vern's head was darker than usual from moisture, clinging with unexpected passion to his scalp.
Reagan couldn't help but take a step back when Vern stepped towards her, waving the spatula menacingly. "She is wondering when her chicken fried steak will be done, is she?" Vern voice dropped almost to a whisper. As she took another step back, Reagan saw a box labeled in bold letters "CHICKEN FRIED STEAK" tipped over on the counter by the fryer, the hunks of breaded meat turning to mush as they thawed. "So, that old bat is wondering when her GODDAM CHICKEN FRIED STEAK IS GOING TO BE DONE! YOU JUST GO BACK OUT THERE AND TELL HER WHERE SHE CAN PUT HER GODDAM CHICKEN FRIED STEAK!"
Reagan scurried back to the dining room. All of the patrons' eyes were on the pass-through window. Several began tossing twenty dollar bills on their tables and heading for the door. Mrs. Gill was smiling happily to herself, obliviously reading her pocket-sized Psalms and New Testament bound in fake green leather.
"It will be just a little bit longer on the chicken fried steak, Mrs. Gill."
The old woman looked up at Reagan. "Oh, thank you, dear. Yes, a chicken fried steak would be nice." The dining room was nearly empty by the time FUS News returned from the commercial break. "Can you tell me, dear, why there were so many people here this evening? I've never seen our place so crowded?"
"Ummm . . . " Reagan was keenly aware of the Psalms and New Testament still in the old lady's hands. "I think that people are just kind of scared, what with all the news and . . . such . . ."
Mrs. Gill smiled an imperturbable smile. "There's nothing to be afraid of, dear. We'll be called home soon."
Mrs. Gill extended a bony hand to pat Reagan's nearest forearm. Reagan flinched at the touch more than she intended.
"Now, how much was that chicken fried steak, dear?" Mrs. Gill placed her small holy book into her handbag and withdrew a wallet.
"Seven dollars, ma'am, just like always, but you--"
Mrs. Gill shoved a crisp ten dollar bill at Reagan. "Here you go, dear. Keep the change, okay?"
Then the old lady left into the creeping summer twilight, pausing to explain to the television reporter outside that all this nonsense just meant that they all were about to be called home.
Ready for the next part? Here's Chapter 3(ish)
Need to catch up? Here's Chapter 1(ish)